Tag Archives: Iowa

Père Marquette | Missionary & Explorer

by Jim and Melanie

We grew up, and continue to live, in the upper midwest not far from the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. We have seen many references around the region of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa to the travels of Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet. They are well-known as the first white men to explore the upper part of the Mississippi River in 1673. They were commissioned by Louis, comte de Frontenac, governor of New France, to find the direction and the mouth of the Mississippi.

The two set out from St. Ignace with five men and two canoes. They traveled the upper part of Lake Michigan and entered Green Bay, where they paddled up the Fox River nearly to its headwaters. A short portage of only about two miles put them into the Wisconsin River. The city of Portage, WI is now at that site. The Wisconsin River carried them to the Mississippi at what is now the town of Prairie du Chien. We have visited that town a couple of times.

The Mississippi River carried them south just past the mouth of the Arkansas River, where they decided to stop. They were warned of white men with guns farther south. They were Spanish, and the Marquette-Jolliet party feared a conflict. The explorers headed back up the Mississippi. North of St. Louis they took a shorter alternate route along the Illinois River. They portaged over the land in what is now the Chicago region to get back onto Lake Michigan. They split up near Green Bay, where Marquette stayed to rest. Jolliet continued back to Canada to report of their discoveries. This map illustrates their long journey.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. | Click to embiggen

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Dubuque | Mines of Spain | River Museum

by Melanie and Jim

October included our 35th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we drove 90 minutes to the city of Dubuque, Iowa, on the Mississippi River. There we visited the Mines of Spain recreation area and National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. We enjoyed dinner that evening and an overnight stay at our favorite B&B in town.

The City of Dubuque

Dubuque, a city of about 58,000 residents and five colleges, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, in the northeast part of Iowa. It’s one of the oldest permanent settlements of Europeans west of the great river, and the oldest one in Iowa itself. The original settlement dates from the 1780s, as a prime location with trapping and hunting, fishing, and logging. In addition, the area had long been a site for lead mining by the Mesquakie tribe, and later by white settlers. The city was chartered in 1837. You can see the evidence of its age in local architecture. Almost 5,000 properties are documented for historical and architectural significance. These include churches, former boarding houses, grand mansions, and shipyards.

One shop in particular, the Iowa Iron Works, started as an iron foundry and machine shop in 1852. The site was responsible for building about 500 boats on the shore of the river. One of them was the Sprague, the largest paddle wheel steamboat on the river at 318 feet in 1901. The company reorganized in 1904 into the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works. Many boats built by the company were for the government during World Wars I and II.

Mines of Spain

The history of this region goes back a long time. Early Native American cultures dating back 8,000 years left evidence of mounds, villages, rock shelters, and campsites on the landscape. The Mesquakie traded furs with French voyagers and worked the lead mines in the bluffs along the river before the Revolutionary War.

The first European to settle here was Julien Dubuque about 1785. He received a land grant from the Governor of Spain in 1796 giving him permission to work the land and mine for lead in an area named “Mines of Spain.” Dubuque married the daughter of the local Mesquakie Indian Chief. Dubuque died 24 March 1810. The Mesquakie buried him with honors at the site of the present monument on a bluff overlooking the region.

The Mines of Spain park is now a favorite recreation spot for locals and visitors, alike. It features bluff-side trails, as is common with river parks in the Midwest. With both of us recovering from knee problems, we weren’t incredibly ambitious with our hiking. However, we did enjoy two different trails with a total distance of about three miles. Views of the river, seen from different overlooks on the trails, still include barges and riverboats, much as they did 150 years ago.

National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

The Mississippi River has a rich and colorful history. It touched the lives of many as it flowed from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Owned by the Dubuque County Historical Society, the museum is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.

The museum features the culture and history of America’s rivers. There are over a dozen aquariums featuring river wildlife and animals found at the Gulf of Mexico. You can see giant blue and channel catfish, sturgeon, ducks, frogs, turtles, rays, octopus, river otters. Other exhibits include steam boilers, boats building hardware, and a woodworking shop. Children seemed excited to look through the clear tank walls and even had opportunities to touch some of the animals. We found it all very interesting.

We headed back home the next day and stopped at a favorite nearby park. Palisades -Kepler State Park hugs the Cedar River. Bluff-side trails give opportunities for more challenging hiking, with lots of roots and rocks and ups and downs. We didn’t take photos this time. However, three years ago we did and shared them in this post.

THIS is Iowa

by Melanie

Note: It’s time to remember what community is about, and the intricate, sometimes invisible ways we’re bound together. I wrote this four years ago after an evening at the North Liberty Barbecue and Blues Fest. 

Your vantage point may be different from mine. If you see Iowa from 30,000 feet, or perhaps whizzing through on I-80 at 70 mph, you don’t see what I see.

From my vantage point this evening, I saw feet. Settled into grass rough as a boar’s bristle hair brush, I ate my barbecued brisket sandwich and cole slaw, and I saw feet. Women’s feet, clad in rubber flip flops, towering high heels, strappy sandals, ballet flats. Stretched out in front of me, my own feet, the exception: clad in thick crew socks greyed from a laundry mishap, and a pair of athletic shoes.

Children, little boys with pale skin, pinked from the heat and sun. Many have blond or reddish hair — the northern European genes still run strong in this part of the state. Other little boys with their chocolate brown skin and tightly curled hair. Little girls, towheads with tank tops and tiny skirts, and dark-haired girls, dressed the same, all holding tightly to a parent’s hand.

I remember passages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House in the Big Woods, where she so aptly describes the swirling skirts dancing at Grandmother Ingalls’ house, all from the viewpoint of a small child. I think of my view from the ground, how limited my scope is here, how little I see.

Looking up I see more, taller children, young adults, young families pushing their strollers. Varying colors and attire, still they seem much the same. The police officer stands out in his uniform, though. He sports a painted pirate patch over one eye and a curling mustache, lending unexpected panache to his appearance.

The next generation older, those of us in our 40s, 50s, 60s, we are more diverse. Men wear tank tops or polo shirts or Sturgis rally t-shirts. They have long hair and crew cuts, beards and smoothly shaved faces. Dew rags and straw hats and ball caps… If you think all Iowa men wear “farmer” caps, John Deere or Case caps, let me assure you it isn’t so. Half the men I saw tonight in their 60s look like old hippies, and the others looked like anyone’s neighbor.

THIS is Iowa. Iowa is not what you see from 30,000 feet, nor speeding by on our main highway. Iowa is not defined by our agriculture or our industry or even our presidential caucuses.

Iowa is our people and how we come together. We come together at the North Liberty BBQ and Blues Fest this evening, at the Kalona Fall Festival, at Hooverfest and the Iowa City Jazz Festival, and hundreds of festivals across the state, across the year. We come together at the farmers’ markets and the football games and community concerts, at churches and synagogues and the Mother Mosque of America. We grant each other a high degree of tolerance and respect.

We are not well represented by the fringe elements proposing a radical GOP platform. We are not well represented by the vile and reprehensible Steve King. We are purple, not red. We are well-educated and rational. We love jazz and blues. We have a long history of progressive civil rights laws, and we were one of the first states in the nation to welcome marriage equality.

What you see from a distance is not what I see. The view from afar does not show you our people, our faces, our children of many colors. The view from the ground is different, is real, and is the future. THIS is Iowa.

Ledges State Park | Ups and Downs

by Jim and Melanie

A sea covered the midwest region of North America about 300 million years ago, eventually forming a deep layer of sandstone in what is now central Iowa. Several past glacial eras carved out diverse landforms across the state. Between 12,000-14,000 years ago, a lobe of ice pushed south from the northern plains and stopped near present day Des Moines. Melting and runoff carved out steep canyons in the sandstone bedrock below, forming what is today Ledges State Park. It is one of Iowa’s favorite parks offering hikes with elevation changes of 150 feet in several places. This topographic map illustrates the rugged terrain. Many people think of Iowa as flat farmland. Most of Iowa isn’t flat.

LedgesTopo

USGS | The National Map

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Moments from a Campaign Event

Though its influence wanes as campaigning changes, Iowa is still the epicenter of the US presidential race. There are more candidate visits per capita here than anywhere else in the country. In years past I’ve seen John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, and others within shouting distance while just going about my business. We’ve attended some rallies and avoided many others. In September while visiting Amana, we saw Republican candidate Scott Walker with his campaign bus and a throng of about eight supporters. Yeah. And the next week he withdrew from the race.

Besides candidates, other celebs come on their behalf. Just this week we’ve been invited to campaign events featuring Howard Dean, Wendy Davis, and actor Tony Goldwyn from Scandal.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to attend an event for Hillary Clinton. She’s a persuasive, knowledgeable speaker, and kept the tone positive. Aside from asserting that the Republican candidates are working in an evidence-free zone, she spent her time talking about her policy positions and plans, rather than tearing down anyone else. She spoke for about 15 minutes, followed by about 30 minutes of questions and answers.

***

Besides the campaign rhetoric, there were a few moments from the event that stood out. First, as we entered the building, we filled out our contact info on a small form, which served as our tickets into the event. While we had our heads down, a young woman asked if we were ready to sign “commitment cards,” committing to caucusing for Hillary. I growled, “NO!” and then heard laughter. I looked up to see our friend Caroline, a campaign worker. She knows our position and was just pulling my chain.

***

We went inside and were directed to the left for seating. It’s a small venue, allowing for about 400 to attend. Our seats were to the left of the podium, near the doorway through which Clinton ultimately entered, and three feet back from the rope line. There was just enough room for people to walk in front of us, which they did as the room filled.

About a half hour before things started, a woman appeared before us and positioned herself and her equipment at the rope line. “I know what I’m doing. I’m good,” the woman said, brushing off a staffer’s attempts to get her to move. She was Washington Post photographer Melina Mara, getting ready to photograph Hillary Clinton as she entered the room. We’d already heard her celebrate “making it” across the secured area with no one stopping her. “No one yells,” she said when Jim asked her about it. “I don’t get in trouble.”

“I know what I’m doing?” I asked her. “That’s all you have to say and people leave you alone?”

“Yes, that’s all there is to it!” She had already reached for me, taking my hand as she spoke. So I reached back and we hugged.

A few minutes later I saw her stroke another photographer’s face and hug him as she greeted him. Yet later, as she talked to an old vet, she had her hand on his knee as she squatted on the floor in front of him. I asked the photographer who recently joined us, “Does she make friends like this wherever she goes?” I nodded toward her with the older man.

“What, you mean I’m not the only one?” He smiled, and then said, “You don’t get to be on staff at the Washington Post without being good at this.”

Yep. She’s good.

***

Speaking of photos, here is a photo taken by Gazette photographer Andy Abeyta. Jim and I are on the far right of the photo.

Hillary

***

I spent a lot of time watching the Secret Service agents. Prior to Clinton’s arrival in the room, visible coverage went from two burly men for an hour, to adding a burly woman, to adding about 10 more men just before Hillary came in. Those were the ones I could see; I expect there were more. As soon as the meeting was over, they formed a picket fence in front of her since the crowd was up and moving and they needed to cover differently. (They did make room for people to step up and shake her hand or thank her for coming.) The guy on the picket fence immediately in front of me cracked a smile back when I caught his eye.

***

Another interesting moment: Clinton asked how many in the audience had previously attended a caucus. (For those of you who haven’t, you don’t just go step into a booth and vote when it’s convenient for you during the day. It’s a scheduled meeting, a process that takes a couple of hours.) The vast majority of us raised our hands. We all laughed, including Hillary.

***

After the event we met our friend Sarah, another campaign staffer, in the hallway. She wondered what we thought. Clinton is very impressive and, frankly, comes across better in person that she does on television. Her goals for the country are for progress rather than regression or destruction. She wants better economic equity and fairness. She supports women’s rights to healthcare, including for reproductive health. And she understands more about national security and diplomacy than any other candidate. Yes, we were impressed. And then we signed the commitment cards Sarah offered us, to caucus for Hillary Clinton on February 1.

 

 

The Day We Met | 7-8-1980

It was hot that July. I was attending summer school to earn my master’s degree. I sat down to lunch in the dorm cafeteria next to Dan, my resident assistant. Almost immediately, Dan asked if I had met Melanie sitting at the other end of the table. Oh, I had seen her walk through the cafeteria several times. I had definitely noticed her. We exchanged greetings and ate lunch.

Melanie and I got better acquainted quickly. I won’t go into detail except to say it got even hotter that July. Then, the darnedest thing happened. The AC in my dorm broke. I had to find a cooler place to study. I wondered if Melanie would let me study with her. Lucky for me, she was okay with that. What a great summer that was.

Now it is 35 years later. To celebrate the day we met, we decided to do two things. In the morning we visited the National Czeck & Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, IA. It had suffered a devastating flood in 2008 sitting next to the Cedar River. By 2012, it was moved and raised and re-opened. Details are in a video in the link above. We had lunch nearby in the old Czeck Village at the Meat Market and Cafe. What great food it was.

After lunch we drove 15 miles through the rolling Iowa countryside to the town of Solon. We changed into hiking shoes and shorts for a brisk hike through the woods, prairie restorations, and along the shore of Lake MacBride. It was good to get out and walk off some of the food from our delicious lunch. Here are a few highlights of the scenes along the way.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

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Trapped! | No Means of Escape

by Jim and Melanie

At times, Melanie and I get ourselves into unusual situations. It has probably happened to you. You plan to do something assuming it might be fun, interesting, a novelty, etc. When you actually get to do it, you find it was a big mistake. You feel trapped and want to escape. It was a bad idea. Here are a couple of examples from our modest, but growing, list. If you have one to share, please add it in the comments.


Me: Hey, Melanie. What do you think of this idea? One of our favorite midwest bands is playing on a three-hour riverboat cruise as a fundraiser.  It’s on the Mississippi River out of Dubuque. The river there is gorgeous. The town has some interesting history. Here is a picture of the boat. It has to be a good time. What do you say? Shall we get tickets?

Dubuque Chamber of Commerce

Melanie: Sure. Sounds like fun. What could possibly go wrong? We love their music.

I want to know what happened.

Effigy Mounds | Winter vs Summer Views

Joe emailed last week and asked if I wanted to hike Effigy Mounds National Monument with him on Friday December 12. My calendar looked open. We agreed on a place to meet and made our plan. It is a two hour drive from where we live to reach the park. It is along the bluffs on the west bank of the Mississippi River in far northeast Iowa upriver from the old small towns of Marquette and McGregor. McGregor has only 850 residents now. In the 1870s, it swelled to 5,500 and was one of the busiest shipping ports west of Chicago. Then, the railroads came. Steamboat travel and shipping declined.

The day dawned quite foggy and about 33˚. The weather forecast called for the fog to remain most of the day. We ventured forth anyway. It had been many years since Joe was last in the park. He took the day off from work to get a much needed break. What normally would be a beautiful and scenic drive was now a trip through a fog shrouded countryside. The rolling hills were invisible.

I was at the park with Melanie in May of this year. The banner on this page looks upriver that day. We hiked the same trail then as Joe and I did this day in December. We stopped at the same overlooks along the bluffs to see the river below. Here is our view in May. Click any picture to embiggen.

2014_0529McGregor_14

Looking across to the east into Wisconsin.

Southbound barge traffic. Click to embiggen.

Southbound barge traffic.

The river took on a much different look this time. No river traffic went by. The locks are closed at the dams for the winter. Some ice is drifting by from an earlier cold spell. We did see some Bald Eagles nearby on the bluffs. Very little else was active this foggy day.

Looking east toward Wisconsin...barely visible.

Looking east toward Wisconsin…barely visible.

Downstream toward Marquette and McGregor.

Downstream toward Marquette and McGregor. No barges until spring.

Thanks for joining us on this little adventure.